Despite pleas for help from northern Calvert residents who say their quaint rural community is threatened by a proposed retail and office project just over the border in Anne Arundel County, a majority of Calvert County commissioners are refusing to intervene on their behalf.
"I wouldn't want Anne Arundel coming in and telling us what to do and I'm not going to tell them what to do," said Barbara A. Stinnett (D-At Large). "I have faith and confidence that whatever needs to be done will be done by Anne Arundel."
Homeowners in Owings and Dunkirk say Stinnett and two other commissioners, independent John Douglas Parran (At Large) and Patrick M. Buehler (D-St. Leonard), are shirking their responsibilities.
"They are hurting their constituents," said Robert Sturgill, an Owings resident who was rebuffed Tuesday when he asked the commissioners to send a letter to Anne Arundel officials, saying that a commercial development would create traffic problems and congestion in Calvert and exacerbate suburban sprawl. "Just because the county line is there, it doesn't mean the counties shouldn't work together to create the atmosphere the citizens of Calvert and Anne Arundel want."
Parran dismissed critics of the Anne Arundel project, saying development is inevitable -- and desired. "The land is going to be developed anyway," Parran said. "Either it's residential and then you've got to pay for kids and schools and services, or it's commercial. . . . Some of the people who object to businesses, they'll be the first in line to use those businesses."
But two commissioners, Linda L. Kelley (R-Owings) and David F. Hale (R-Owings), sided with Sturgill and the homeowners. Kelley and Hale promised to write individual letters opposing the project. They said building stores and offices on both sides of Route 2 creates traffic flows east and west across the busy highway, which runs counter to the goal of keeping Route 2 a north-south artery. And it encourages the kind of strip mall sprawl that Calvert is trying to avoid, they said.
"This impacts both Anne Arundel County as well as Calvert and if this goes forward, the area will fall like dominoes," Kelley said. County planners from both Calvert and Anne Arundel agree with Kelley, Hale and other critics.
At issue is a proposal by the Wayson Land Holdings Limited Partnership to build a restaurant, office space, bank, pharmacy, gas station and car wash on 11 acres on the south side of Route 260 just west of Route 2. The land, which was once owned by State Del. George W. Owings III (D-Anne Arundel, Calvert, Prince George's), is planted with corn. Owners of another plot of land, about 16 acres in Calvert County just south of the Wayson property, have requested a rezoning from residential to commercial so that land might be included in the project.
To build the Wayson project, Anne Arundel officials would have to change the land's zoning from residential/agricultural to commercial. A hearing on that proposed zoning change is scheduled Tuesday in Annapolis before the Anne Arundel administrative hearing officer. He will have 30 days to rule on the request and his decision can be appealed to the county's board of appeals.
Critics say the Anne Arundel project would wreck Calvert officials' attempts to maintain farmland and carefully control development in the northern county. They instead want to concentrate development in the Owings town center, which is across Routes 2 and 260 from the proposed Anne Arundel project.
"At some point in time, we have to get away from strip mall development, from the mind-set that produced the Waldorfs and the Edgewaters of the world," said resident Sturgill, a Republican who unsuccessfully challenged State Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's, Calvert) last year.
Suzanne Schappert, a planner for Anne Arundel County, agrees with the critics in Calvert and plans to testify about her opposition to the Wayson project at Tuesday's hearing. A group of Owings and Dunkirk residents are expected to join her.
"The people who have moved into this area have made a trade-off -- they're willing to drive 30 to 35 minutes to get to amenities in exchange for a rural lifestyle," said Dave Wayson, who lives across Route 260 from the proposed project and is collecting signatures on a petition against it. His third cousin is one of the hopeful developers. "We have a difference of opinion on this," Wayson said.